Numerous times throughout my teaching career, I have had students ask me something along the lines of… “Why are we talking about science/English/social studies stuff in here? This is MUSIC class.” I almost always respond, “No, this is a LEARNING class. Besides, it’s all connected anyway, right?”
Why anyone decided that it would be best to teach kids to learn subjects in isolation is beyond me. When my oldest daughter was a freshman in high school, her freshman history teacher told me at parent/teacher conferences that he was amazed at how well my daughter was able to make connections. He explained that, when they discussed a certain topic in class, she was able to quickly draw an example from a seemingly unrelated event and make comparisons. He said that the majority of freshmen in his classes were nowhere near to having that ability.
This is the same child that struggled miserably on standardized tests, yet still did very well in school. Would you be surprised, however, to learn that she is very gifted in music and has been surrounded by music and musicians her entire life? When she was in Kindergarten, she came home singing the Queen of the Night’s Aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. She then explained the entire plot to me, from her 5 year old perspective and then told me how much it was like a story she had read about people falling in love. What??? And she was actually spot on.
Okay, so this post didn’t start out to be a synopsis of how brilliant my child is. She is brilliant, but that’s another story. (ahem, proud mom)
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that she is able to make connections so easily. She was introduced to the piano literally days after birth. As a toddler, she sang along with the voice students who used to come to our home on Saturday mornings. We played every type of music for her- classical, pop, jazz, country, rock. She began dancing at the age of 3. To say that music was a huge part of her life would be a gigantic understatement. We talked all the time about music – what the music was about, where it came from, etc. I could cite research about how music helps brains to for connections, but that’s really not where I’m going with this.
Back to the classroom examples: in my classes, if we learn a new song, we learn about the song’s origins. Where did it come from? What language is this? How do we sing it in this language? Why was it written? What is the subject? If it’s about butterflies, let’s talk about the life cycle of butterflies. Can we find someone to Skype with us about this song? Let’s write our OWN song about butterflies. What should that sound like? Through the music, we can see that LEARNING isn’t reserved for those topics listed in the syllabus or title of the class.
In my classroom, I have the luxury of no state testing for which to prepare my students. We don’t have to practice for tests. We get to spend more time learning about our world and how connected we really are. When you give children the tools to help them see connections for the first time, they get better and better in making connections on their own. They realize we are not the only ones on this planet– and though we have differences, we also have a lot in common with other people around the world. Our music might be different-sounding than the music in Ghana or Tibet or Indonesia or Iceland… but it’s still music. It is still created by people about themselves and their surroundings.
My job is to teach children to LEARN. The fact that I do that job in a music classroom is secondary to that at all times. And yes… I am lucky that I have the opportunity to use music as the tool to make those connections.